Most comfortable in well worn jeans and scuffed cowboy boots, actor William Devane’s “home on the ranch” couldn’t be more different from his decades of acting in such high-profile projects as Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman, Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot, the millionaire playboy in Knott’s Landing, and most recently 2016’s television comedy The Grinder, opposite Rob Lowe.
But perhaps Devane’s most compelling roles are in the political arena. Contemporary audiences know him best as 24’s James Heller, both as Secretary of Defense and then the President of the United States (POTUS) from 2010 to 2014 opposite Kiefer Sutherland. “That last season on 24 was some of the best work I’ve ever done,” Devane says with pride.
“When the producers first approached me to reprise the role of Heller, who was then the President in those last twelve episodes of the series, I wanted him to be a guy who really didn’t want that responsibility. Well, that didn’t work with them, so we landed on a character who was in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s – and how would that guy continue to run the country?”
Making television history in l974 when he starred as John F. Kennedy in the highly acclaimed The Missiles of October, about the Cuban missile crisis, four decades of great television roles followed. “‘Missiles of October’ certainly typecast me, there’s no question,” said Devane, noting he finds it amusing that someone who “graduated from high school with nine shop credits keeps getting cast as university-educated, high-brow commander in chiefs.”
When not working, he relishes the outdoor life away from the camera at Deer Creek his Thermal, CA polo farm and at his other getaway, a small ranch in Montana. Well into his 70’s, Devane keeps fit and active by working at Deer Creek, “mending fences and rails, doing day-to-day maintenance, and even riding one of the several horses I keep at the property.”
“I don’t play polo anymore because I am too old,” said Devane, “but once June comes, we trailer several older and trustworthy horses up to Montana and ride into the mountains. The ranch is at 7300 feet above sea level so just bending down to tie your shoelaces is a good cardio workout,” he laughs. When he purchased the property two years ago, both the house and barn needed a lot of updating and he prides himself on the work he has done – “a simple but very comfortable place to spend my summers.”
“The key to keeping fit,” stresses Devane; “is moving all the time and I’m constantly active between the work I do at the two properties. I feed the horses every morning wherever I wake up, and also try to play golf four times a week in California. In addition, I read two newspapers a day to keep my mind alert; and may not always be the healthiest of eaters but do practice portion control.”
Born in Albany, New York, Bill started acting in neighborhood theatre while in high school. He went on to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and made his professional debut with the New York Shakespeare Festival in “The Merchant of Venice.” By 1971, he was giving New York audiences a critically acclaimed performance in the Broadway revival production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Clive Barnes of the New York Times praised his portrayal saying; “He dominates the stage like a bank robber with a gun.”
In l983, he landed the role of enigmatic and unpredictable business tycoon Gregory Sumner on the hugely successful “Knott’s Landing;” -- a performance that US Magazine called “...cohesive and compelling, year after year...”
During the show’s nine year run Devane garnered a Golden Globe nomination and two Soap Opera Awards for Best Dramatic Actor. Over the last five years he has costarred with Tom Selleck in the Jesse Stone television movie franchise, as well as more than a dozen other television series and movies.
Throughout his career Devane has worked with an illustrious group of actors in feature films, including Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland in the Clint Eastwood directed Space Cowboys, Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier in John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man, Vanessa Redgrave in Yanks, and with the legendary Alfred Hitchcock in the director’s final film, Family Plot. Devane also starred in the films The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, The Dark, Report to the Commissioner, and Testament, with Jane Alexander. Recently Entertainment Weekly singled out both the film and Devane’s performance as an ex-Vietnam War POW in Rolling Thunder as an “underrated gem.”
However, as proud as he is of his acting career, creating his Deer Creek polo farm and training facility, which he carved out of a hundred acres of central California desert, is one of his greatest accomplishments. “This is where my passion has always been”, he says with a smile. “I enjoy the outdoor life”